The avant garde metal and glass interior of the Fernando Zobel train station was the last thing we expected when we disembarked after our 45 min. high speed train journey from Madrid.
A nagging feeling that we had inadvertently got off at the wrong station persisted as we climbed into the lone taxi out front and sped through open countryside and through the 20th century streetscape of the new town and right until we crossed a bridge across a dramatic gorge and cruised to a stop beside the 16th century Convento de San Pablo, now the Parador de Cuenca, our home for the night. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we decided to set off to explore the Cuenca we had come to see just across a vertiginous pedestrian bridge near the Parador: the puenta San Pablo.
Originally an 8th century Moorish fortification, Cuenca (from the Arab Kunka) see-sawed between Arab and Christian control for centuries before capitulating to Castilian rule in 1127. Subsequent prosperity from trade in textiles prompted an influx of population evident from the mostly vertical structures practically spilling over the rim of the precipice it straddles. Later, civil war and French occupation inflicted severe hardship as did the Spanish inquisition. That the historic walled town survived centuries of such tumultuous history earned it UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996.
The Casa Colgadas (Hanging Houses) are Cuenca’s main draw. But its picturesque location on top of a rocky escarpment overlooking that steep, stunning gorge carved out by the Júcar and Huécar rivers is a compelling enough reason to visit. And despite the distinct absence of grand monuments so typical of medieval fortified Spanish cities, it is the organic architecture that blends harmoniously with the rugged landscape that held the largest appeal for me.
The Casa Colgadas themselves are integrated beautifully into the cliff walls, with delicate wooden balconies suspended precariously over the steep ravine. That there are just three left is a bit of an anti climax however, and made me wish for a time machine to have been able to witness a cliffside encrusted with similar dwellings. The three casas, picked up by the authorities for a pittance, are now leased to the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español set up by Filipino artist Fernando Zobel. Its fabulous abstract art collection juxtaposed with those dramatic views make for a remarkable museum experience.
Stumbling upon well curated museums in the most unexpected places is part of the charm of wandering small towns in Europe, but I hardly expected to find as many as we did in Cuenca, with collections displayed with as much sensitivity to the historic architecture as the architecture to the landscape. Sadly, the Museo Diocesano and the Fundación Antonio Pérez were all that we had time for apart from the aforementioned abstract art museum.
The Plaza Mayor dominated by the Town Hall and the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Gracia is more of a thoroughfare than a typical Spanish plaza. We broke our cardinal rule about not eating in touristy town squares (anywhere) and paid for it. Our dinner in Fugon de Huecar that night, with breathtaking views of the parador lording over that spectacular gorge, more than made up for the disastrous lunch. Especially when followed by dessert and coffee in the atmospheric cloister of the old convent to the rich, warm tones of live violin music.
31 thoughts on “Cuenca & The Last Of The Casas Colgadas”
Gorgeous! this looks like a must!
It is Ann Christine. And an easy day trip especially with the high speed Ave connection. An overnight stay makes it a bit more relaxing.
Next time in Madrid! I’m also up for Bilbao.
Am assuming you have already visited Andalusia. No denying the wealth of monuments in the South, but for a second visit the North coast has so much to offer. Such a variety of landscape and fabulous cuisine.
Oh, we had such a great time in Cuenca! We took an enormously long walk into and then throughout the city and loved the (few) casas colgadas and the winding lanes of the town as a whole. We did not get to stay at that parador, but managed to book them in Granada, Ronda, and Carmona. Did you stay in any others?
No, this was our first and only Parador! One of the reasons we opted to stay overnight 🙂
Really characteristic place 🙂
It is. Thank your for reading. Have a great weekend!
The same to you. Bye
Ooh…lovely! I love the interior of the train station. Are you still traveling in Spain?
No, we returned on the 2nd Kat.
That train station was stunning although quite unexpected considering most people are there to visit a medieval town with Islamic roots! Loved the light filtering in through the patterned cutouts of the metal slat frame.
Modernity and heritage living side by side but thankfully it isn’t a garish modern design…I felt it was rather stylish.
Quite the juxtaposition between the train station and town. What a lovely Palador and travel experience, Madhu. It sounds like it exceeded your expectations, especially with the rugged landscape and hanging houses. Stunning pictures. Love that night scene.
I like Spain and its culture, which is a real good mix of muslim and catholic influences. The people are kind, even if in the big city (specially Madrid) they aren’t very open to tourists which doesn’t communicates in their language… and even for those who speak spanish but with a “foreign” accent 😉 they can be quite picky. But in so far you only want to be a tourist, is okay that way. I never been in Cuenca and I see that I missed something! Thank you for sharing pictures and photos, have a lovely weekend Madhu. :-)claudine
This is a mind-altering post Madhu, the vant garde metal and glass interior of the Fernando Zobel train station being a perfect introduction to this area…from the modern to the medieval attractions of the town. Beautiful photographs!
We’ve only been to the Ecuadorian Cuenca, but your words and photographs make the original Cuenca very enticing. I’d especially love to see those Casa Colgadas.
On my bucket list for certain! Thanks for the picturesque narrative, Madhu
That Zobel train station is human ingenuity personified–gorgeous and inspirational. Lucky you…
You have an amazing blog….Thanks!!!
I’m so glad I discovered your site. You write in such an interesting way and the illustrative pictures make you wish you could be there to enjoy the scenery. Thank you for the effort you put out to educate us all.
I know how you feel about the tourist trap hotels but sometimes it really is worth it – this looks like one of those times. The wooden balconies look marvellous but I don’t think I’d want to step out on one, I’m not frightened of heights – the bridge would be fab, but I wouldn’t trust the strength f the construction!
I am breathless with this one. Beautiful capture through your lens, I felt as if I was wandering with you. I felt as if I needed to be, should be wandering with you. My heart, my soul both expanded and soared.
Thanks for the lovely trip, Madhu. Wish I could visit.
I’ve been missing out on a heap looking at your posts on my iPad! I’ll be off to the laptop in future. I love the juxtaposition of old and new in this one, and as always your words inform and delight.
Thanks for taking me with you. I especially like the dramatic light coming through the openings and reflecting on the floor in interesting patterns. Vern nice! Looks like a wonderful place to stay, too.
Beautifully shot – and how lucky you were with those perfect blue skies! When I lived in Spain I realised a lot of the ultramodern high-speed train stations seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere. Reading your account and seeing the photos brings back some fond memories… I went to Cuenca with a few friends several years ago in early spring and had a fabulous garlicky soup in a tavern off the town square. But we didn’t manage to visit the Casas Colgadas – they were closed!
You win some, you lose some:-) We got pretty lucky with weather. Madrid cooled down considerably by the time we returned from Cuenca, and considering the Northern coast gets 200 days of rain a year, it only rained one evening in all our time there! Our plans for a final tapas meal in Madrid got washed out though. So we scooted back to our airport hotel in a taxi, and ended our trip at a neighbourhood Chinese restaurant!!:-)
Wonderful photos. Those hanging houses are scary!!
I so enjoy reading about your travels, Madhu, and I do marvel at your photography. I am a fan!
What a superb introduction to Cuenca, Madhu! You had me from that first entrancing station photo, but it only got better! 🙂 🙂 I wasn’t planning a return to Spain any time soon but you make it look irresistible. Virus or no, I can see you enjoyed your trip.